Its government pushed to the defensive at the Centre,its allies forcing it to roll back or freeze key policy decisions,the ruling Congress tonight hoped to make significant gains in the Assembly polls in the five states,the results of which come in tomorrow.
Most exit polls have not brought good news for the party,nudging it to fourth place in Uttar Pradesh and keeping it in the hunt for power in Punjab,Uttarakhand,Manipur and Goa.
As party president Sonia Gandhi returned from the US today after a routine medical check-up, party managers were putting up a brave face. Given how Rahul Gandhi came to define the partys campaign in Uttar Pradesh he addressed over 200 rallies and slammed both the SP and the BSP many party leaders were trying to insulate him from any adverse outcome.
Dismissing the exit polls,Union Minister Salman Khurshid said today that he expected the Congress to do much better. He said that Rahul was in UP for a long haul and his mission was to revive the party in the Hindi heartland. If you have heard his speeches,hes talked about a long-term engagement with UP…Nobody else went into that kind of depth and that kind of vision as Rahul Gandhi did. Its the first time that the UP electorate heard somebody speak with passion,speak with involvement and speak with commitment, said Khurshid.
Echoing party general secretary Digvijaya Singhs stand that he,and not Rahul,should be held responsible if poll results are not up to the expectations,UP Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi said that the party and its candidates are responsible for results and not Rahul who was only a campaigner and was not involved in the distribution of tickets and strategy-making.
Incidentally,Singh has trashed the exit polls maintaining that the Congress will get over 100 seats.
While Congress leaders were hopeful to unseat the Opposition parties in Punjab and Uttarakhand,it was Lucknow that weighed on their mind. There is little doubt that the UP verdict will be seen as a verdict on the brand of politics that Rahul has been associated with in UP and on the efficacy of his team which micro-managed the elections.
Meanwhile,Union Minister Beni Prasad Verma whose remarks about Congress-BSP tie up were dismissed by the party as his personal opinion today got support from his ministerial colleague Harish Rawat who said,No possibility can be ruled out in politics.
Union Minister Rajiv Shukla claimed today that the Congress will play in a crucial role in the formation of the government in UP even as Congress leaders maintained that the party was yet to take a call on its post-poll partner and would discuss it only after the results are out.
The party and even the BJP are banking on a startling new change in UP since the last election: the record turnout,almost 60 per cent as compared to 46 per cent in 2007. On an average,each Assembly segment has polled just under 48,000 votes over and above the votes polled in the last Assembly elections in 2007. In that election,the winner,on an average,polled 46,276 votes.
Given that the average victory margin in the 2007 elections was less than 10,000 votes,these extra 48,000 votes,political analysts say,throw the contest wide open in many of the 403 Assembly segments across the state. A high turnout is usually seen as a vote against the incumbent and the SP would
While SP leaders believe that this surge in turnout will work to their advantage,the new voters could turn the contest from bi-polar to triangular or even qudrangular. This could,in turn,help the BSP or even the Congress and the BJP.
As happened in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections when the Congress sneaked in to win over half a dozen of its 21 Lok Sabha seats in triangular or quadrangular contests. Similarly,the BJP hopes that it has quietly worked its way up by attracting the most backward classes and luring the Brahmin vote back from the BSP. All this,however,is wishful thinking in each camp,the night before the verdict.